Wednesday, April 23, 2014

From My Shelves - Osibisa - Woyaya

(From My Shelves is an occasional series on the blog looking at some of my favorites from my personal collections)

"Woyaya" by Osibisa (1971) When I went away to college my musical tastes were, um, limited.  I went to college with three albums - Jim Croce's Greatest Hits, Chicago's Cardinal album and Nat "King" Cole's Greatest hits.  I had grown up on pop radio and folk music.  To be perfectly honest my musical taste was pretty bland and my knowledge of anything beyond my tight little universe was very, very small.

Among the friends I made at college was a local guy named Tom Hesketh who came at music from the polar opposite place from me.  He introduced me to all kinds of new music and got me thinking about it in ways that changed my life.  We are still friends all these years later.

One of the groups that I heard in that time and place was an Afro-pop group called Osibisa.  Made up of Ghanian and Caribbean musicians they drew on the musical traditions of their home countries and fashioned a kind of music I had never heard before.  Today we would classify them as "World Music" but that would be putting the cart in front of the horse.  First there was Osibisa (and others) then came "World Music".

Woyaya is their second album but the first that I heard.  It has an infectious energy that is delivered through rhythms and sounds that were just world shattering for this sheltered boy from middle class suburbia.  All these years later I still love the sounds and music.  Their first two albums (the eponymous "Osibisa" and "Woyaya") are far and away their best work.  For those of us who have clung to the vinyl beliving we would never see CD versions the good news is that they were re-mastered and issued as a two CD set in 2004.

The band famouly claimed that their name means  "criss cross rhythms that explode with happiness".  I don't know if that's a good translation or not but it certainly describes how the music makes me feel.

One of my prize musical possessions.

A live recording of the title track.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Movie Review - 2006 Academy Award Nominated Short Films

Great collection of short films available on a single DVD from Netflix -

"West Bank Story" - A very funny takeoff of the classic musical "West Side Story" but here a nice Israeli boy falls in love with a nice Palenstinian girl.  He's a member of the Israeli army and his family runs the "Kosher King" restaurant right next door to her families "Hummus Hut" restaurant.  A LOT of fun.  Won the Oscar for Live Action Short.

"The Saviour" - The story of a door to door evangelist who has fallen in love with a woman in the neighborhood where his team is working.  He insists on meeting her without his partner which draws the suspicion of the rest of his group and his pastor.  Malcolm has to face the conflict between what his heart and his faith desire.  What he discovers is not what anyone expects.

"Helmer and Son" - (Danish, with subtitles) An elderly man locks himself in the closet at his retirement home and refuses to come out.  His son and daughter try everything to get him to come out.  When he does he brings several surprises with him.  A poignant look at family with a unique point of view.

"Binta and the Great Idea" (in French with subtitles) - Binta is a small girl from a village in Senegal.  She helps her father to bring an idea to help make the world a better place to the attention of the government. Slowly the big idea makes its way along.  Made in partnership with UNICEF the story is told in a fashion that is very different from Hollywood style.  The story unfolds both directly and through a play enacted by the children of Binta's village. in the end the big idea is something of a surprise but one that is still a very good idea.  The soundtrack for this one is wonderful as well.

"One Too Many" (Spanish with subtitles) -  When Joaquin's wife leaves him with his son he asks his mother-in-law to come live with them.  It doesn't turn out the way he expected.  A quietly funny little movie.

The following are animated films -

"The Danish Poet" - A look at the circumstances that bring people together to be parents and how that affects who we become.  A young poet goes in search of inspiration and finds love.  A film made with Canadian and Norwegian backing, it is narrated by Liv Ullman and won the Oscar for short animation.

"Maestro" -  A clever piece of CGI animation with a rather obvious punchline.

the following are bonus shorts, but not Oscar nominated -

"The Wraith of Cobbleskill" - A stop motion, claymation style film about a young man who has to take care of his mother.  Felix is asked to watch thelocal grocery store and the owener's dog when the owner goes on vacation.

"The Passenger" -  A young man reading a scary novel discovers that his tunes had a side effect  he never anticipated but puts to good use.

"A Gentleman's Duel" - Two gnetlemen are so caught up in the competition over a lady's hand that they lose track of the lady herself.  An ever so slightly racy piece of fun with just the tiniest touch of steampunk.

"Guide Dog" - The story of the world's worst guide dog.

"One Rat Short" - A rat from the streets falls into a laboratory filled with white rats.  Does he find love?  And what's with the cheese curl bag?  A strange little movie.

A live action extra -

"Surviving the Rush" - A small Detroit movie theater gets the movie movie in years and can barely survives the experience.  Lots of bad language and only a so-so execution.

There's some real quality here, and overall the quality is quite good.  A couple of weaker efforts don't take too much away from th experiene.

Rating - **** Recommended

Friday, April 18, 2014

Comic Book Movies, Using the Tools and the New Loyalty


 "The View From the Phlipside" is a media commentary program airing on WRFA-LP, Jamestown NY.  It can be heard Monday through Friday just after 8 AM and 5 PM.  The following are scripts which may not exactly match the aired version of the program.  Mostly because the host may suddenly choose to add or subtract words at a moments notice.  WRFA-LP is not responsible for any such silliness or the opinions expressed.  You can listen to a live stream of WRFA or find a podcast of this program at wrfalp.com.  Copyright 2013-14 by Jay Phillippi.  All Rights Reserved.  You like what you see?  Drop me a line and we can talk.


Program scripts from week of April 7, 2014
(These scripts didn't get posted on schedule and we're catching up now.  Pardon our tardiness)

My name is Jay Phillippi and I've spent my life in and around the media.  TV, radio, the movies and more.  I love them, and I hate them and I always have an opinion.  Call this the View from the Phlipside. 

Comic Book Movies                                                                                               

One of my great joys in life are movies.  My father was a movie buff and I inherited that love from him.  We didn’t agree on everything about the movies.  He thought colorizing classic black and white films was a great idea.  I consider it heresy.  Over the years I’ve watched a lot of movies.  I like just about any kind of movie as long as it’s well done.  Foreign films, action movies, dramas, comedies I’ll watch just about anything.

The other day I was watching one.  The thought occurred to me that the movie was illogical, had no understanding of the laws of physics, no understanding of the rules of economics and finance, had virtually no character development, didn’t contain a single original concept and the humor was both utterly predictable and a little juvenile.  The movie was “Pacific Rim” and I’ve got to be honest.  

I loved it.

“Pacific Rim” is a really fun example of what I call “Comic Book Movies”.  The category isn’t just Batman and Superman and all the Marvel Universe characters.  The category includes any movie that includes most of those characteristics I mentioned before.  They don’t care that what they show is physically impossible or that there’s no way that even the entire planet together could afford to pay for all the stuff in the movie.  So the “Men in Black” movies certainly qualify as “Comic Book Movies”.  You could even argue that the “Rocky” movies or the “Die Hard” movies include at least some of the characteristics.

“Comic Book Movies” aren’t Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet”, they’re not “12 Years A Slave” and you know what?  They’re just fine with that.  You know what else?  So am I.

I am always amazed when people go to a movie like “Pacific Rim” and get all high art hypertensive about stuff that really is irrelevant to the movie.  But you’re missing the point if that’s where you are starting with your critique.

Trust me, it is more than possible to make a bad “Comic Book Movie”.  It can be a very fine line, a very careful balancing act between the good and the bad.

But when the time comes and you plunk down your money to watch a “Comic Book Movie” just remember that the idea is to sit back, relax and enjoy.

Using the Tools                                                                                                       

Let me just briefly note that I’m in the process of looking for a new job. Me and thousands of others in America today. It’s been interesting looking at how the process has changed and how it hasn’t changed in the new digital age. Unlike the last time I was in the hunt virtually everything is done digitally today. You either e-mail in your materials (even audio checks for radio jobs) or you fill out an online forms. Some of the online forms make me a little crazy. There are the ones that require you to basically repeat what is already on your resume (which they also require). Now I’m sure this is to help the HR department with one of the more odious modern trends in my opinion. The use of algorithms to sort through applicants. This is fine if you’re content with a cookie cutter pool of candidates. In my experience some of the best people aren’t cookie cutter candidates. The algorithms make sure that HR never sees them. That’s the HR Departments loss but it’s utterly frustrating from the job seeker’s point of view. Then you have the recent form that required specific codes for certain information. Those codes are not provided anywhere and I only got them because I guessed. Seriously. And this was a major mid-west University site. Astounding. But my favorite issue, or least favorite depending on how you want to look at it, has to do with something much simpler. The simple act of communication. Years ago I designated employers who do not even acknowledge your materials as “black holes”. One former employer of mine maintained it was just too expensive to send out letters. In the age of e-mail that excuse is left at the wayside. Yet some place still do nothing. Even in an age when that function could be automated. Far more frustrating are places that simply stop communicating in mid-process. I assume I’m no longer in the mix but have no idea because no follow up contacts from me get any response. The reality is that this is probably telling me something very important about those companies and organizations. What puzzles me is that so many companies seem to be so blind to the impression they are creating of themselves. In an age when doing it right is so simple, that’s really inexcusable.

The New Loyalty                                                                                                            

I was fascinated by how a recent story in the media news and a recent study on the Millennial generation showed a new issue that advertisers are going to have to keep in mind.

The Millennial generation is going to have a huge impact on our culture.  Why not?  Baby Boomers have had an impact in line with the size of our generation and the Millennials are even bigger.  Latest figures put Boomers around 77 million people while Millennials clock in at 82 million.  So if you’re in marketing you need to figure them out.

One of the conventional wisdom pieces about the younger group is that, unlike their elders, the Millennials don’t have any brand loyalty.  A new study from the folks at Adroit Digital says that is not true, but that we may need to reassess how a product or service gains that loyalty.  In an interesting twist 24% of the surveyed see themselves as MORE brand loyal than their parents.  The really interesting note is that 77% say they use different criteria for deciding where that loyalty will be given.

Millennials are much more interested in what a company stands for, what is called corporate conscience, when it comes to deciding who is going to get their money.  Consequently public statements about current issues and controversies can have a much greater impact on the bottom line with this generation.

So I was not much surprised when I saw the furor that blew up around the former CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich.  Mozilla is the company that gives us the Internet browser Firefox and the e-mail manager Thunderbird, among other things.  Eich was a co-founder of the Mozilla Foundation and creator of the JavaScript programming language.  There’s no denying his credibility in computer circles.  Eich also is an opponent of marriage equality and made a private donation in support of Proposition 8 in California that opposed gay marriage equality.  The resulting firestorm pushed him to resign his position with the software company.

There’s plenty to discuss about the whys and hows of this situation.  Questions about protected political speech and intimidation are getting plenty of discussion For the more bottom line folks out there this should serve as a cautionary tale.  If you’re marketing to the Millennial Generation, what you stand for makes a difference..

Call that the View From the Phlipside

Colbert News, Self Promotion and Ratings Deception

 "The View From the Phlipside" is a media commentary program airing on WRFA-LP, Jamestown NY.  It can be heard Monday through Friday just after 8 AM and 5 PM.  The following are scripts which may not exactly match the aired version of the program.  Mostly because the host may suddenly choose to add or subtract words at a moments notice.  WRFA-LP is not responsible for any such silliness or the opinions expressed.  You can listen to a live stream of WRFA or find a podcast of this program at wrfalp.com.  Copyright 2013-14 by Jay Phillippi.  All Rights Reserved.  You like what you see?  Drop me a line and we can talk.

Program scripts from week of April 14, 2014


My name is Jay Phillippi and I've spent my life in and around the media.  TV, radio, the movies and more.  I love them, and I hate them and I always have an opinion.  Call this the View from the Phlipside. 

Ratings Deception                                                                                                  

I’m going to return to one of my favorite topics.  I keep coming back to a few of these because I think it’s important for all of us to stay on top of what’s happening.  Especially when what’s happening is yet another mistake being made.

In this case it’s the “old line media not dealing with the new digital age very well” story.  Once again we have the media old timers circling the wagons instead of realizing that nobody uses wagons any more.

Over the last six plus decades there has been one set of numbers that people in the television industry have always listened to, the Neilsen ratings.  The ACNeilsen company and later the spun off Neilsen Media Research folks tell us what we watch and who is watching.

The folks at Nielsen try to keep their finger on the pulse of the media world.  I mean, that is what smart MEDIA people would do, right?  About a year ago they decided it was time to start including people who watch TV via broadband services.  In other words people who watch TV via the Internet would be counted.  The numbers of us doing that have become statistically significant and therefore should be included.

Not so fast, my friend said the people at the National Association of Broadcasters.  The NAB is a big wheel in broadcast TV and Radio.  In February the NAB voted to call on Nielsen to delay adding those households to the local TV ratings.  They’re still measured and counted in the national ratings but will be excluded from the local ones for the indefinite future.

So why would the broadcasters want this?  I can only offer an assumption.  That is that they believe or fear that many of those homes aren’t watching the local stations’ streams.  Which means we’re not watching their commercials.  Which means their ratings would go down.  Which means their commercial rates would go down as well.

Once again the old line media is trying to change the rules so they can keep playing the same game they’ve always played.  So they circle those wagons while the rest of us take off with our hoverboards and jetpacks.

I’m just wondering how it’s going to be before they realize they’ve stayed on the wrong trail?

Self Promotion                                                                                                        

I have to be very careful this week. I will walking a very fine line between critique and hypocrisy here. If there is one thing that American culture has done better than just about anyone in the world it is promote. Whether it’s pushing a new product or promoting ourselves it is a truly American art form. In fact there are days when I think it goes beyond that. There are times when it feels like it is an integral part of the American Way of Life. When you connect the dots with our obsession with being famous then you begin to see just how much self promotion is a part of our national psyche. I must admit that I do a certain amount of self promotion myself. The blog and twitter feed that are linked to this show are self promotion pure and simple. I have a product that I’d like lots of people to use. I have a certain track record that can be consulted along the way. So why do I have such a problem with the news from a week or so ago about two young football stars who are working on creating their own “brand”s? It’s what you do these days, I understand that. It doesn’t change the fact that I felt a small frisson of irritation with the news that Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and Texas A&M soon to be NFL quarterback Johnny Manziel were in the process of creating their brands. RG3 now has his own brand logo and Manziel has been applying for a copyright on the phrase “The House That Johnny Built”. In the end what I think bothers me is this. What do these guys think they have to promote? RG3 has shown flashes of promise but hasn’t managed to play a full season. He hasn’t shone in the postseason yet either. You can point to Manziel’s Heisman Trophy but the reality is that there are plenty of Heisman quarterbacks who wash out of the NFL. There’s an old marketing adage that says you don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle. I’m just wondering if there’s much steak to be had here. So the argument could be made that these guys need to rake in whatever bucks may be available to them while there’s any sizzle to be heard. On the other hand, it takes a special kind of arrogance to draw a comparison between yourself and one of the greatest proven performers of all time. “The House That Ruth Built” is what both sizzle and steak really look like.

The End of Local Media                                                                                                             

It was just last week that long time late night star David Letterman will be stepping down sometime next year.  A variety of thoughts came to me in the time since then.

First, why do you announce it this far in advance?  There’s not even a definite date, just some time in 2015.  It’s APRIL of 2014!  It’s not like “The Late Show” is being cancelled.  In the lifespan of late night talk shows this happens.  I don’t see any upside to this indefinite, relatively distant future announcement.  Most of us give two weeks notice and the world manages to keep turning.

Second, I wonder how much of this has to do with the retirement of Letterman’s long time rival, Jay Leno.  Most specifically if it has to do with the performance of NBC’s “Tonight Show” since Jimmy Fallon took over.  In the weeks since the handoff to the new generation Fallon has basically tripled the ratings of his two network competitors, Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel.  The talk has been out there for years now that both Leno and Letterman were living on their laurels.  Opinions ran that both were in the end stages of their careers and it was time to think about new blood.  Well, NBC has seen the benefit of that new blood first.  Maybe, CBS or Letterman or both saw the writing on the wall.

And that brings us to the surprise in all of this.  We can assume that CBS learned the lesson of the long drawn out replacement sagas at NBC the last two times it was time to name a new host.  No long drawn out process, no start and stop and start again.  No teasing potential hosts only to dump them later.  Within a week CBS had the new name.  A new name that might be a game changer.

Stephen Colbert.
But there are pitfalls on that front as well.  On the “Colbert Report” the host does a biting satire program in character.  The word is that we will NOT be getting that Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show”.  Will fans of the “The Colbert Report” follow along for this other Colbert?  And what will this straight up version of the host bring to battle back against a Jimmy Fallon that will have had a full year to polish his already impressive act?

Late night TV hasn’t been this interesting in a very long time.

Call that the View From the Phlipside

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review - Nest of Worlds

Nest of Worlds by Marek S. Huberath - (Originally published in Poland in 1998 this is the first edition in English available this year from Restless Books)

Imagine a world where your social status is determined by the color of your hair and where you must move to a new continent every 35 years.  In that new land your status will change and the society there will be different from what you knew.  Where the nature of your death is related to your Significant Name.  And there will be a special book called the "Nest of Worlds" which describes a very different world from your own.  A world where your act of reading just might make a difference on the lives of the characters in it.

Huberath is recognized as one of the greatest contemporary Polish science fiction writers and this is the first of his novels to be translated to English.  His work is basically science fiction/fantasy but he also explores some deep philosphical/moral issues along the way.  "Nest of Worlds" (Gniazdo światów) won the top Polish science fiction award in 1999.

The concept here is brilliant as you descend down through four versions of the "nested" worlds associated with the books.  Each world is unique and complete.  Huberath takes us through a careful examination of what that nesting may mean and in doing so draws you, the reader, into the action as well.  I found the book a little slow going at first.  He allows you to slowly unwind the details of the first world you encounter.  That felt a little awkward.  But the concept is so interesting that I just couldn't walk away from it.  In the end the investment paid off handsomely.  What is the nature of the Universe?  How do we remain human even in the most extreme situation?  What sacrifice will you make for love?

I can't think of a comparable book for "Nest of Worlds".  It is a wonderful work by an author at the height of his talent.

Rating - **** Recommended

Monday, April 14, 2014

Movie Review - In the Heat of the Night

In the Heat of the Night - (1967) - The town of Sparta, Mississippi has high hopes for a new factory in their town.  Then the man who was to build that factory is killed on the street.  Police initially suspect a black man travelling through town named Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) but he turns out to be a homicide detective from Philadelphia.  When Sheriff Gillepsie (Rod Steiger) verifies that fact he gets a suprising gift.  Tibbs boss offers the small town department the use of Tibbs's expertise.  Together the two must find a way past their personal expectations and biases to solve the case.

I will admit that a little bit of tingle ran down my spine when this disc arrived.  I haven't seen this movie in years but it's one that sticks with you.  There's everything to love about it. It opens to the sound of Ray Charles singing. The screenplay by Stirling Silliphant is fabulous.  Steiger and Poitier wonderful are beyond words.  The supporting cast is centered on Warren Oates and Lee Grant with plenty of other familiar faces.  In the hands of a skilled and veteran director like Norman Jewison it's just an astounding movie.

What's best in this movie is that everyone is shown with thier flaws.  Tibbs pride makes the situation harder.  Gillespie's small town mentality and racism makes him doubt every word and action of Tibbs.  At the same time both men are honorable and trying to do the best they can despite their situation.  They will struggle with the facts of the case and their antipathy for each other. Tubbs finds himself in a world he wants no part of and Gillespie has the outside world inflicted on his nice, safe town.  In the end more than just a killer will be discovered.  Each will have to confront parts of themselves.

"In the Heat of the Night" was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won five.  That included Best Film, Best Actor (Steiger) and Best Adapted Screenplay.

There's a feeling I get when I watching something very special.  My energy level goes up and I smile all the way through.  It's exactly how I felt watchingthis movie.

Rating - ***** Worth Owning

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Movie Review (Extra) - RoboCop

RoboCop (1987) - In a dystopian future Detroit a city policeman is mortally wounded then brought back to life and duty when he's transformed into a cyborg.  RoboCop will have to battle criminals, the big money corporation that created him and his own lingering memories.

This all began when I caught the last 45 minutes or so of Paul Verhoeven's 1987 movie "RoboCop" on one of the movie channels and made some slighting remarks about it on my Facebook page.  My cousin Stewart Smith (Entertainment Editor of the Tyler (TX) Morning Telegraph and award winning journalist) challenged me to re-consider my assessment, believing that there was more there than I thought.

So I popped the movie into my Netflix queue (and was promptly greeted with the dreaded "Long Wait" flag) and waited.  During my "time off" I've enjoyed being able to watch a movie with lunch a couple days a week.  "RoboCop" filled that slot.

Let me step back for a moment.  I believe there are four key aspects of a movie.  Concept, Script/Dialogue, Cast/Acting, and Production/Visuals.  Lots of movies get by with high scores in only three of those areas, a few get by with only two.  So let's see how "RoboCop" does.

Concept - This is the movies greatest strength.  In some ways the concept was almost prescient, presenting us with Detroit in collapse and mega-corporations moving into more and more areas traditionally thought of a "public" (military, hospitals, prisons, police).  Advances in technology allow a greater integration of humanity and technology (cyborgs).  Out of that is created the icon that is RoboCop.  A corporation steals his life, and attempts to eliminate both his personality and humanity.  He is now a "product" rather than a person.  The audience is faced with the classic challenge of the cyborg.  Is it human?  At what point does it cease to be so?

Call this a pass.

Script/Dialogue - Sadly, that great concept is utterly let down at this point.  The script and the dialogue have the sophistication level of a 13 year old boy.  The characters are one dimensional and show no growth during the movie.  Laced with superfluous obscenity the dialogue is stilted and unnatural.  Instead of giving us some intellecutal meat to chew on we get criminals who try to kick an armored robot police officer between the legs.  With the expected results.  RoboCop tosses a criminal through the door of a convenience store upright cooler and then offers up "Thank you for your cooperation".  Shakespeare this isn't.  The script is also borrows heavily from many other movies.  You'll get a taste of "Blade Runner" (which was a partial inspiration for the movie), you'll get a clear Darth Vader reference.  It just feels a lot like a script that was cobbled together from available pieces.

It also never really decides just how it's going to approach the concept.  Sometimes it's a dark, dystopian movie.  Then we get the knee to the groin joke.  For a while I played with the idea that it was supposed to be satire or black comedy.  Again the script never commits to either concept.  I was left with the feeling that the writer felt like he needed to try and put some adult movie concepts in there somewhere.  Again, a cobbled script lacking a true central vision.

Some critics  have praised the script as offering a strong female lead in the person of RoboCop's partner (from when he was just officer Murphy), Officer Ann Lewis.  The idea is ludicrous.  She is just another in a long line of incidental female roles who never manage to emerge from the shadow of her male lead.  Early on as she beats up a manacled suspect in the station house.  Tough lady, right?  The first time she has to take on a suspect "in the wild" he takes her down with a move that shouldn't work against a kindergartner,   In the rest of the movie she's there to provide compassion, supply and support.  She does manage to blow up one bad guy at the end.  Just another secondary female movie character for me.  Too bad she wasn't given more.

Call this a fail.

Cast/Acting - There's some real veteran actors in this cast.  Ronnie Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Paul McClane.  Peter Weller does a nice job in a role that severly limits his range of emotion.  He carries the emptiness of RoboCop quite well but I'm not sold on his performance the way some critics have been.  Roger Ebert, of sainted memory, credits Weller's ability to elicit sympathy while covered in prosthetics.  Given the plot I don't think that required a lot of acting.  Given that I find the script and dialogue so bad I'm not sure how much blame I can give to the cast.  They do the best they can with decidedly inferior material.

Call this a push.

Production/Visuals - If you're going to claim "Blade Runner" as your inspiration you've set the standard for the "look" of the movie very high.  That isn't entirely fair since the "Blade Runner" budget was $28,000,000 and "RoboCop" was working with only $13,000,000.  I have no doubt the special effects chewed up a chunk of that.  For the time they're not bad.  Not great but not bad.  Once again there's no commitment to a single vision for the movie.  Visually the movie looks a lot like a well financed indie pic.  The descriptions in the movie give you a vision of Detroit that speaks to Batman's Gotham City.  Curiously, the city you actually see is only minorly rundown.

The movie is also pretty bloody at times.  Not as bloody as the original cut which received an "X" rating.  It's not quite Sam Peckinpaugh but clearly gets some inspiration there.  Once again, even on the blood and guts/gross out theme the movie can't figure out what it wants to be.  The toxic slime "accident" late in the movie is much more teen horror than major motion picture.

There are some standout moments.  RoboCop emerging from the fireball of an exploding gas station, the RoboCop itself.  Even the ED-209 (the totally robotic police unit) isn't awful.  I will admit that every time I look at it all I see are studio microphones I've worked with during my radio career.  But even the ED-209 can't figure out what it is.  When it falls down the stairs at one point it gets stuck on it's back making pitiful small animal noises.

That lack of a consistent vision makes this a fail for me.

So one pass, one push and two fails.  I can hardly get excited about "RoboCop".  Made by the same studio, this is basically just a low rent "Terminator" rip off.  The difference is that the "Terminator" movies get all the pieces right.

At the same time the movie created some iconic images and moments for the wider movie world.

So we'll give this movie a just barely "Worth A Look" rating.

Rating - *** Worth A Look

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Book Review - Bear Is Broken

Bear Is Broken by Laclan Smith (2013) - Leo Maxwell lives in the shadow of his older brother Danny, the most successful and possibly most hated defense attorney in the San Francisco area, and his father, currently serving a life sentence for the murder of  their mother.  In both cases he both loves and hates what passes for his family.  When Danny is murdered Leo will have to step out of his role as "Monkey Boy" and try to solve mysteries that suddenly make up his life.

I'll give Smith this - I've read much worse debut novels.   In fact I've read third and fourth novels by authors that don't build a story as well as he has here.  The problem is that once the story is built he seems to lose track of what he is supposed to be doing with it.  We follow Leo along as he is very quickly in over his head with the police, with his brother's ex-wife (on whom little brother once had a fairish sized crush), the wealthy young heiress, her brother, mother and father, plus various former clients of Danny's.  For me the problem is that Leo never seems to rise above the confusion.  He flip flops between possible suspects without ever really nailing down any one candidate till the answer falls into his lap.

Leo never truly stands up for himself, never seems to come up with any kind of plan and manages to get played by just about everyone at least once.  When he thinks he's playing other people the impression I got mostly was befuddlement from the others as they just stare dumbfounded as he fumbles along.

This book is listed as the first of a series.  I didn't see anything that particularly inspires me to follow along with Leo's adventures.  Mostly I just wanted to give "Monkey Boy" a swat upside his head.  At the same time the books not a bad read.  So it's possible I could be tempted to check out something else by Lachlan Smith.

Rating - ***  Worth A Look

Monday, April 7, 2014

Movie Review - Driving Lessons

Driving Lessons (2006) - A shy young man, Ben, (Rupert Grint) takes a job working for an eccentric retired actress, Evie, (Julie Walters) in part to make a little money and in part to escape his domineering mother (Laura Linney).  His browbeaten father, the local vicar, (Nicholas Farrell) has retreated before his wife's megalomania and carefully ignores her affair with his curate. Evie will take him places he's never imagined and his mother would never approve. The movie is a warm story of a boy's coming of age.

Harry Potter fans will find  some familiar faces here as Grint and Walters are re-united.  This is not the greatest coming of age movie of all time.  It relies very heavily on many of the "stock pieces" of the genre and doesn't really do anything new with them.  At the end the screenplay seems to be at a loss how to end the story.  There's a couple of odd lurches to the story and then it just sort of peters out.  The story certainly deserved better than it gets.

On the other hand because the story feels less "polished" it comes across as a little more "real".  Coming of age is awkward and a little untidy.  This falls into my caegory of a "little film".  Not a big budget, not a sweeping story, just the kind of little story that actually takes place in real people's lives.  I have a very soft spot for movies like this.  They're about my two favorite parts - character and story.

While the story revolves around Ben but the real force in the story are the two women.  Evie feels free to simply be herself even as that self is a little lost.  Ben will help her find the way back.  On the other side is Ben's uber controlling mother.  She is angry and intense.  Nothing makes much of a dent on her.  Linney is just scary good in this role.

There's a strong religious sub plot here.  The church is not shown at its finest.  Which is not to say that it isn't a fair representation of at least parts of it.  The mother's understanding of church is based on a simplistic theology that is used to control everything around her.  The father's faith is emasculated, just as his wife has emasculated him.  Evie doesn't think much of faith at all and Ben has been taught not to think at all.  It would have been great if they'd either gone somewhere with this story line or dumped most of it.  This part of the story just kind of hangs there, without purpose or destination.

In the end the movie is just this, a sweet little story with some fascinating characters.  It might have been so much more but it's just enough as it is.

Rating - *** Worth A Look

Friday, April 4, 2014

The End of Local Media, School and Social Media, Business Reality

 "The View From the Phlipside" is a media commentary program airing on WRFA-LP, Jamestown NY.  It can be heard Monday through Friday just after 8 AM and 5 PM.  The following are scripts which may not exactly match the aired version of the program.  Mostly because the host may suddenly choose to add or subtract words at a moments notice.  WRFA-LP is not responsible for any such silliness or the opinions expressed.  You can listen to a live stream of WRFA or find a podcast of this program at wrfalp.com.  Copyright 2013-14 by Jay Phillippi.  All Rights Reserved.  You like what you see?  Drop me a line and we can talk.

Program scripts from week of March 31, 2014


My name is Jay Phillippi and I've spent my life in and around the media.  TV, radio, the movies and more.  I love them, and I hate them and I always have an opinion.  Call this the View from the Phlipside. 

Business Reality                                                                                                  

As a lifelong science fiction fan I am very familiar with the concept of “virtual reality”.  Writers have been playing with the concept for decades now.  From the earliest ideas of three dimensional projections up the holodecks found in the “Star Trek” universe the idea of being able to interact with other people as if they were in the same room or to interact with completely created worlds has fascinated us.

Recently virtual reality hit the front pages when Mark Zuckerberg and his minions at Facebook dropped two billion dollars on the purchase of the company that makes the best of the current generation of virtual reality headsets, known as the Oculus Rift.

The reaction to this news is kind of funny.  The gamer community promptly lost their fanboy marbles.  Facebook is the digital equivalent of a minivan.  It is many things but cool is not one of them.  So the idea that a company so astoundingly uncool was trying to sit at the cool kid’s table was more than a lot of folks could bear.  The creator of the iconic game “Minecraft” went so far as to declare that they would cease work on bringing their game to Oculus Rift because as the founder notes “Facebook creeps me out”.

I think a lot folks have lost touch with reality, virtual or otherwise.  Oculus Rift began with a two and a half million dollar Kickstarter campaign.  That’s nice but the reality is that’s a drop in the bucket of what will be needed to make this “the next big thing”.  That will need big bucks.  Billions of big bucks.  Which means that some big corporate entity was always in the future of the Oculus headset.

Could Facebook screw this up?  Oh, certainly.  The Zuckerdroids have shown some astoundingly tone deaf moves over the years.  Facebook’s increasingly aggressive and almost unavoidable advertising is one of the greatest bogey men in the gamer closet.  Facebook is moving into a field where they have ZERO experience and less than zero credibility.  If they stay out of the way of gamer development while simultaneously exploring the social media possibilities they could, to use a gamer term, level up in the digital world alongside folks like Google and Microsoft.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens after the angst settles. Because in the end there is no save point on a two billion dollar investment.

School and Social Media                                                                                        

This next story makes me crazy in more than one manner. As a long time observer of the media it makes me crazy. And as someone who has worked with teens for over a decade it makes me crazy. A 13 year old girl in Minnesota went on her Facebook account and posted that she didn’t like one of her school’s hall monitors because, in the young lady’s words, the adult in question was “mean”. That’s the entirety of the comment that sets the following events in motion. The school gave her an in school suspension for the comment. They then brought her into the office, and in front of school officials and a police officer, forced her to give them the password to her Facebook and e-mail accounts. These adults then began searching all of her communications looking for any additional “offenses”. Just a clarification. The girl had made the comments on her personal Facebook account. On her own time, not school time. On her own computer, not school computers. And the young lady’s mother says the school district did not get parental permission for this search. Has your head exploded yet? This astounds me because it indicates that at least this school district has decided that they have control over all aspects of a student’s life, even when they’re home. This astounds me because professional educators ought to have a better grip on how teens talk. The monitor was “mean”. There was no attack on the reputation of the adult (seriously, you want to argue that being called “mean” by a 13 year old damages an adult?), there was no call for bad behavior. She just thinks this adult is mean. Finally, where were the legal advisors for this school district? Surely they didn’t advocate for this approach? The family sued and won a $70,000 verdict. I know that school districts have plenty on their plates today. So I don’t understand why they would decide to take on social media use by their charges with so little advance planning and thought. Let’s hope they can at least serve as a bad example for other school districts.

The End of Local Media                                                                                                             

Most listeners to this program are aware that I have worked in local radio for a good portion of my adult life.  For many years I worked for radio stations here in the Jamestown area.  Before that I worked for two stations in Erie, PA and one in a tiny little  town south of Pittsburgh.  I have been part of the “local media” as compared to the “national media”.  And that was absolutely fine with me.  

In my heart of hearts I am a local media guy.  I like the ability to reach out and be involved with your listeners.  To have common reference points and experiences.  The fact that you will run into your listeners pretty much everywhere you go is also a great way to keep your ego in check.  When you step over a line you will hear about it.

So what I’m about to say may shock you.  It certainly saddens me.  I think local media may be doomed.

We’ve touched on this in a couple ways, talking about the difficulty of old line media to find new business models, the reluctance of old line media to embrace the new digital world and more philosophical discussions like the future of journalism.

The longer I think about it I’m not sure there’s a way that local media can survive.  I have serious doubts that the people running local media companies.  I don’t think they have the imagination to find a new way of thinking about their industry.  At the same time the insistence among too many on the Internet that they don’t want to pay for information services shows how little they understand about what it takes to offer the kind of services newspapers, radio stations and TV stations can offer.

It’s not that I don’t believe there is a solution out there.  The challenge is that local media outlets need to start thinking of themselves in new ways.  Are you a media company or a radio station, a newspaper?  A media company needs to move with the times.  The alternative is what happened to the buggy whip industry.

At the moment most local media (everywhere, not just here) are focused on cutting costs and offering a more efficient but more generic product.

If that’s the best they can do then the end of local media is a lot closer than I’d like.

Call that the View From the Phlipside